Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

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Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The singles-hitting Phillies scored just enough runs to break a season-long, five-game losing streak and get Cliff Lee a much-deserved win Thursday night.

The 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins was another of those tooth-and-nail jobs in which everything has to go right for the Phillies to win. They put together a nice little rally in the top of the eighth to get Lee the lead and Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon closed it out. Papelbon earned his 12th save in his first save chance since May 29 (see Instant Replay).

Lee improved to 8-2 on the season and 7-1 in 10 starts following a Phillies loss.

Obviously, the Phillies have done a lot of losing this season. They are just 2-5 on this trip and 32-35 on the season, 7½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

July is right around the corner and with the Phillies sputtering, Lee’s name will soon be hot in trade rumors. Hey, it already is.

So what does ol’ Cliff think?

He offered a glimpse into his thoughts in a chat with reporters after the game. Here it is in Q & A form:

Q: You came here to win. How tough is it to be here on a team that’s spinning its wheels around .500 and has a real uphill road?

A: “The past year and a half hasn’t gone the way I anticipated, but that’s why you play the games. You never know. I don’t think anyone here is happy with the way we’ve played over that time frame. It’s due to a lot of injuries. There’s some good excuses. But they’re still excuses. We’re the Philadelphia Phillies. We should play better than we have. There’s not a good excuse for it, but we have had a lot of key guys injured, so it is what it is.”

Q: As currently constituted, do you think this team can be a playoff team?

A: “What?”

Q: With the current makeup of this team, do you think it can be a playoff team?

A: “I can’t look at it any other way besides I expect us to win and catch up with the Braves and get into the postseason. That’s the only way you can look at it.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, do you want to stay?

A: “I definitely want to win. There’s no doubt about that. I want to win. I don’t know how to say it besides that. I want to win.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, are you prepared to stay here for two months and play out the string?

A: “I don’t have any control over that. I know that I want to win and I’ll voice that to whoever. And that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I signed here and that’s where my focus is.”

Q: Are you surprised it’s gone like this the last two seasons? (The Phils won the NL East with Lee in 2011, but missed the playoffs last year.)

A: “We had one chance at it in 2½ years. This year is not over yet. I expected to get multiple shots at it. But there are 29 other teams thinking the same thing. So nothing is going to be given to you and nobody feels sorry for you. You’ve got to go earn it. I’m going to keep doing what I can to give this team a chance to win when I pitch and that’s really all I can control.”

There’s some interesting stuff in there.

Foremost, Lee was given the opportunity to say he wanted to remain with the Phillies even if they continued to plod along out of the money, and he wouldn’t commit to it.

Lee has a limited no-trade clause in which he can block deals to 20 teams, but no-trade clauses can be negotiated away. With his 35th birthday approaching, it’s difficult to imagine Lee blocking a deal that would send him to a team with a chance of winning a World Series. That is if the Phillies decide to move him. There is a school of thought that they will hang on to him, cross their fingers for a second-half run and try to get it together with Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation next season.

But can Lee, hungry to win and tired of losing, wait that long?

We’ll see.

In the meantime, savor every Lee start. Like this one. He allowed just three hits over seven innings, walked one and struck out six. He faced the minimum through 6 1/3 before allowing a walk, an infield single and a two-run double on his only bad pitch of the night, a hanging 0-2 cutter to Justin Morneau. Lee didn’t make it past the seventh because he had a blister on his middle finger.

Down a run in the top of the eighth, Kevin Frandsen (pinch-hit double) started a two-run rally that allowed the Phils to retake the lead. Jimmy Rollins’ ground out scored Ben Revere (four hits) with the go-ahead run and Adams and Papelbon did the rest.

“Cliff pitched too well to lose that game,” Frandsen said.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

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The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

Best of MLB: Michael Conforto powers Mets to win over Padres

Best of MLB: Michael Conforto powers Mets to win over Padres

NEW YORK -- Michael Conforto homered twice and had a career-high four RBIs, including three on two hits during the Mets' biggest first inning in 13 years, and Matt Harvey won his first home start since getting suspended as New York routed the San Diego Padres 9-3 on Tuesday night.

Lucas Duda broke out of a slump with three hits and three RBIs, and manager Terry Collins earned his 500th victory with the Mets. His team got a leadoff homer and a two-run single from Conforto in a seven-run first against Jhoulys Chacin.

Given a huge early cushion, Harvey (3-3) labored through five innings to win for the first time since April 11 at Philadelphia. The embattled former ace was 0-3 in his previous six starts and got banned three days by the Mets after skipping a home game this month following a late night on the town.

Chacin (4-4) got only two outs in the shortest and worst of his 145 career starts over nine major league seasons. He gave up seven runs and eight hits (see full recap).

Rendon, Nationals clobber Mariners
WASHINGTON -- Anthony Rendon homered twice and drove in five runs, Joe Ross returned from the minors to allow one run over a career high-tying eight innings, and the Washington Nationals routed the Seattle Mariners 10-1 on Tuesday night.

Bryce Harper added his 14th homer and Jayson Werth hit his seventh off Chris Bergman (1-2), who allowed all of the Nationals' runs and 14 of their 15 hits.

Rendon doubled before his second homer -- and seventh of the season -- completed an eight-run fourth inning. Ryan Zimmerman also had three hits.

Mike Zunino homered off Ross (2-0) in his return from his own minor league stint. Robinson Cano was hitless in his first game back from the disabled list following a thigh injury as Seattle dropped its fourth straight (see full recap).

Lester pitches 4-hitter in Cubs’ win
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester pitched a four-hitter for Chicago's first complete game of the season, and the Cubs beat Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants 4-1 on Tuesday night in a rainy rematch of last year's playoff opener.

Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer as Chicago improved to 5-2 on its nine-game home stand. Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward also connected, helping the Cubs bounce back from their 6-4 loss to the Giants on Monday night.

Lester and Cueto hooked up in a memorable pitchers' duel in Game 1 of the NL Division Series last October, with Chicago winning 1-0 on Javier Baez's eighth-inning homer. The Cubs eliminated the Giants in four games and went on to their first World Series title in 108 years.

Lester (3-2) was sharp once again in the low-profile reunion. Cueto (4-4) was just OK, striking out eight in six innings, but surrendering each of Chicago's three homers (see full recap).